One of the most challenging parts of writing a book or creating any type of art is dealing with criticism. When you create something, it’s hard not to feel attached to it, like any criticism it gets is an attack on you personally.
While there are some exceptions (such as genuinely offensive content not written in good faith), the truth is that people’s opinions of your work actually have nothing to do with you. How someone reacts to a piece of art is deeply personal and formed by a variety of factors you, as the artist, have no control over.
If you struggle with a lot of fear of criticism around your writing, this could manifest as procrastination and other creative blocks that keep you from being able to finish writing a book or sharing it with the world.
Here are some important truths on how to deal with criticism — and more importantly, not be afraid of criticism —so you can freely express your creativity, finish writing a book, and make your dreams come true.
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- Guest Post: How to Not Let Rejection and Criticism Crush Your Creativity
Truths to Help You Handle Criticism
Your self-worth isn’t tied to what you create
This may sound counterintuitive at first because our work literally feels like a piece of us transferred to the page. But once you’ve completed it, it becomes something that exists separately from you — and your self-worth should not be tied to what people think of it.
Chances are, even your favorite artists have created some projects that didn’t resonate with you as much as others (or at all). Does that mean there’s anything wrong with the artist themselves? Do these “less successful” pieces reflect on their worth as a human? Definitely not.
What about your friends who love and create music, fashion, art, or books that aren’t really your cup of tea? Does that change how you feel about them as human beings? I’d hope not.
Art is subjective, and how “good” or “bad” someone thinks it has no bearing on the artist’s worth as a human being. Writing a book is only one thing you’ll do, it’s not who you are.
People’s opinions are deeply personal
Don’t make the criticism you get about yourself. Their opinions are not a reflection of you, they’re a reflection of them. People are going to bring all of their own personal experiences to your work when they read it, which consists of many variables, none of which you have control over.
Art is a form of self-expression. By nature, it’s always going to be unique because each creator is a unique mixture of experiences, perspectives, preferences, and tastes — just like each person who comes into contact with it.
We all have different ways of seeing and experiencing the world and all of those things make our relationship with art very personal. The sooner you accept that you aren’t part of the relationship between your work and someone else, it becomes easier to process people’s opinions of it.
There’s always a percentage of people who won’t like it
The phrase “you can’t please everyone” isn’t just a platitude, it’s a fact. No matter what you create, there is always going to be a certain number of people who don’t resonate with it.
This quote from author Ryan Holiday from his interview on The School of Greatness podcast explains this well:
“There’s an exercise from Marcus Aurelius that I think about. ‘Is a world without shameless people possible?’ No. He’s like, a certain amount of people are going to be this way or that way, right? So when you meet one of them, you’re not like, what’s this?! You’re like, 1 out of 100 is this kind of person. I just met one. Mathematically, it makes sense. Just like, if you see a tall person, a certain percentage of people are tall. You’re not like, where is this tall person coming from? So, was it ever possible for you to please 100% of people 100% of the time? Absolutely not. So, when you come across someone that is unhappy with your work, you gotta go, this checks out mathematically. You look at a YouTube video, you’re like, oh, it did a million views, did 50,000 upvotes, 1,000 downvotes. You’re like, who are these 1,000 people? 1,000 out of a million. Mathematically, that’s pretty good, actually. That’s actually great. And so, again, just reminding yourself that, mathematically, a certain amount of people – you’re not for them and they’re not for you.” — Ryan Holiday
Your fear may try to latch onto this as a reason not to release your precious work to the world. But what if your favorite books and works of art — the ones that had the most profound effects on you — were never released because the creator was afraid to receive any negative feedback?
Also, consider what you’re giving up just to avoid negative opinions from a handful of strangers. You don’t get to connect with like-minded people who appreciate your work, you don’t get the opportunity to make a living from what you’re passionate about, and you don’t get to enjoy the fullest expression of something you love creating. Why is someone else’s opinion more valuable than any of those things, especially if different perspectives are just a natural part of life?
External validation isn’t fulfilling
Focusing on external validation as your main goal will have you constantly chasing it and being dragged through extreme highs and lows. Even if you’re pursuing something as a career, it helps to remain as neutral as possible about both compliments and criticism.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy compliments or take constructive criticism seriously, but cultivating the ability not to let feedback constantly inflate your ego and destroy your self-esteem is crucial. Controlling your emotional response and staying grounded in your purpose will help you weather the ebb and flow of others’ opinions so it doesn’t affect your creativity.
“When you’re addicted to the positive feedback, you’re vulnerable to the negative feedback. I appreciate all the accolades I’ve been flattered with, but I don’t get confused by them. For all the hate I get, I try to understand it but I don’t get confused by that either.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
Here’s a great 2-minute video from Gary on why you shouldn’t overvalue compliments and criticism:
Embracing these truths will grant you creative freedom
Instead of resenting or feeling pressure over the fact that you can’t please everyone, shift your perspective to how much freedom this gives you — and the fact that there is something out there for all of us. Embrace the beauty of the world’s incredible diversity.
It’s actually a privilege we aren’t all forced to like and resonate with the same things. And if what we want isn’t already out there, we can make it ourselves. The only person you’re obligated to please with your art is yourself.
Give yourself grace when it comes to integrating these truths on how to handle criticism as a writer. Remind yourself of them as often as you need to and understand that sometimes, it’ll be easier to embrace them than other times. Keep practicing it.
I’m going to leave you with this fantastic quote by author Elizabeth Gilbert from one of my favorite books on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
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